Incarceration in the United States

The incarceration rate in the United States is the highest in the world, with over two million people behind bars. The reach and impact of this on American families is not well understood. Christopher Wildeman, Policy Analysis and Management, is leading a team of Cornell researchers to optimize data collection to better understand exactly how deep and wide the spread of incarceration is in American families. The team is using a novel set of questions around family history of incarceration that they will develop over the 18 months they have to complete the work.

The goals of the project are to design and implement a complex survey in order to produce estimates—four state-level and one national—of the share of the population with a history of family incarceration in the United States. Arizona, Mississippi, New York, and Oklahoma are the team’s target states. Each is unique in its patterns of incarceration and racial and ethnic disparities in incarceration.

Additional questions and findings include information on criminal justice contact beyond incarceration, current as well as historical family incarceration, and types or levels of family incarceration. The findings will further be broken down by demographic group, including race, gender, and family income, and may include sub-estimates for municipalities. The data will provide a much more nuanced and detailed understanding of how incarceration impacts American society. In addition, the experimental pretests that the team is planning will have the potential to greatly elucidate exactly how malleable and consequential reports of family incarceration are.

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$450 Thousand spanning 1.5 years

Sponsored by